The “konbini life” is a slippery slope.
You know, when your existence basically depends on what you buy at a konbini, the common term for the ever-present Japanese convenience stores lingering on every corner. According to an April Reuters wire service article, Japan had 54,000 of these chain stores nationwide — with nearly 20,000 of those being 7-Elevens.
The konbini life starts with your innocent casual encounters. You need an iced coffee and a snack? The konbini’s got you. Worked late and looking for a quick meal? No problem, the konbini is there for you. Suddenly, one day you wake up, put on your 7-Eleven skin-care products (yes, those exist), pour yourself some Family Mart orange juice, cook up some Lawson’s eggs, and when on your way to work — oh, why not? — grab a Mini-Stop coffee and something for lunch.
Whether you’re in full-fledged konbini dependency or just a light user, Japan-dwellers always seem to have an allegiance for a certain brand.
Like unwrapping an onigiri, fast and easy, you’re living the konbini life. Though we have warned against the dangers of this lifestyle for both your wallet and belly — the term is actually gaining popularity. Last year, there was even a choose-your-own-adventure-type visual novel called KonbiniLife that popped up.
Whether you’ve decended into full-fledged konbini dependency or just a light user, Japan-dwellers always seem to have an allegiance to a certain brand. We offered a list of our Top 5 convenience stores in Japan a few years ago, but it’s time to revisit our stance.
We took a quick poll of where our staff stands on this issue and the results were, well, impassioned. Comments escalated from, “Whatever happened to ‘Am/Pm?’” (bought out by Family Mart in 2009) to “Daily Yamazaki and Mini-Stop are the worst!”
So enough with the small talk — here are our five favorite convenience stores in 2017 (in descending order).
5. Mini-Stop: Sweet, sweet relief
Mini-Stop was a controversial one, but ultimately, its place in the top five is due to its superb ice cream selection. We recommend the Belgian chocolate. In general, the soft-serve ice cream here is a game-changer as is its selection of various limited-time sweets (Please bring back those caramel parfaits!).
Perhaps because it’s not quite as popular as our top 3, it seems like most stores have more space to chill and eat or read a magazine before you go about your business (or pleasure).
4. Seico Mart: The underdog
You might be saying, “Wait, what?” Seico Mart might not be on your radar, but here’s why it should be. It’s basically the ojii-san (grandpa) of the konbini as its the oldest brand in Japan. Many of its products are cooked fresh on site. For example, its “Hot Chef” (ooh, la la) line includes a croissant made from ingredients imported from France and baked on premises.
The reason you may not have heard of this one is that it’s only located in select prefectures, with the closest one to Tokyo city being in Saitama.
3. Lawson: Triple threat
Lawson fell short of our top 2 because many just don’t seem to have strong feelings about it one way or the other. It is still a powerhouse for some of its select foods and products.
They have some unique choices for chicken. The yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) are bigger and juicier than even the finest grocery store skewers. Its “Karaage-kun” deep-fried chicken nuggets are a perennial crowd pleaser — especially when the limited edition varieties, like yuzu or mentaiko (fish roe), hit the heat racks.
Another plus is its “Machi-cafe” selection of coffee, snacks and sweets — specifically (for our group, anyway) the banana muffins and matcha cookies. Surprisingly (or not), its sister Lawson 100 and Natural Lawson shops are a great place to look for fresh produce.
2. FamilyMart: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride
FamilyMart — or FamiMa, as the cool kids call it — is great for baked goods and sweets. Beyond the Family Mart bread and cookies, it carries a weird brand of biscuit-and-chocolate hybrid called “Every Burger.” By eating it, you can get just as many calories as a cheeseburger by instead eating a plethora of cute cheese-burger-shaped sandwich cookies. Oh… Japan.
Family Mart is also good for those yen-savers out there, with its convenient point card, the T-Point Card. And, the fact that some Japanese banks don’t charge a service fee if you grab cash from one of its ATMs. Yeah, we know Lawson and 7-Eleven also have point cards, but does anyone really use those?
1. 7-Eleven: Old Faithful
7 makes some solid stuff across the board with its “Premium” and “Gold” products. These osozai (prepared food) products range from baked goods to soups to onigiri (best tuna-mayo ones, hands down!) to hot reheatable meals. And, it’s all good in our book.
The Seven Caffe, with easy-to-use machines that quickly dispense richly robust, fresh-brewed morning coffee for ¥100-¥150 apiece, is another strong point for caffeine addicts. If you’re in need of a quick bite, we’re quite fond of 7’s egg salad sandwich and its mango ice cream.
Last — perhaps more importantly for expats — it’s a convenient place for those needing to withdraw cash. Its bank machines (and 7-i Bank) accept all the big cards including ones issued overseas.
Do you agree with this list? What do you think is the best Japanese convenience store and why?